Breaking Travel News interview: Dimitris Manikis, managing director, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, EMEA | Focus

Dimitris Manikis is a natural entertainer.

In the job for just over a month, other executives would be keeping a low profile as they sought to master their brief, but not the new managing director for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts in Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Instead, he is touring his domain, meeting the general managers and owners at the 460 properties now under his leadership, while also catching up with the press to discuss his new role.

In a relaxed mood in London, he tells Breaking Travel News the recent floatation of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts will allow the company to focus on its core objectives moving forward.

“It allows us more focus, a clearer direction, and speed in decision making, we no longer have to go through hurdles of priorities as you do within a bigger company,” he explains.

Following the spin-off, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts becomes the world’s largest hotel franchisor, with a portfolio of 20 well-recognised lodging brands and nearly 9,000 franchised hotels in more than 80 countries.

But, despite the size of the company, Manikis is most excited about the impact the move will have on his associates.

“Our priorities are now our priorities,” he adds.

“There is very clear messaging for the staff, our associates, and this is very important for us as well. We have inherited a lot of great stuff from Wyndham Worldwide: the ethos, culture, and leadership.

“Wyndham Worldwide managed to nurture a lot of great leaders, those who have now become the leaders of our new company. Geoff Ballotti, our chief executive, comes from the space, at Wyndham Worldwide, while Steve Holmes will stay onboard as non-executive chairman.

“It was the right time for the market, it was the right time for us, as employees, and the right time for our customers.

“We have a far clearer view now of what we want to be and where we want to go, and Wyndham Destinations has the same thing.”

Manikis took up the roll officially at the start of May, having joined Wyndham from RCI, where he was 27-year veteran at the timeshare company.

So, what does he hope to achieve in his new role?

“It is not rocket science,” Manikis explains candidly, “our associates remain very important for us, we want them to feel empowered, to feel proud of the company and the culture – this is something we have inherited from Wyndham Worldwide.

“For our owners, we want to add relevance and value, to keep adding relevance and value for them.

“To grow, obviously, I do not think there is any managing director who would say we are staying put or looking to lose ten hotels: growth is definitely part of it, a key incentive.

“Be a leader, for our shareholders, we do not forget the shareholders, which are very important in our lives.”

He adds: “We want to move into new markets, as well as grow in existing markets, we do not want to forget existing markets; everybody talks about new markets, but we believe existing markets are equally important for us.

“We also need to make sure our brands reflect what consumers are looking for.”

Wyndham recently completed the purchase of La Quinta, a predominately South America-based asset-light, fee-for-service business consisting of nearly 900 hotels.

The deal takes Wyndham to a portfolio of 20 brands and continues a trend that has seen the company complete an acquisition roughly every 18 months over the past three years.

Are there more deals in the pipeline?

“I wish I could tell you,” laughs Manikis.

A natural showman, he uses Greek mythology to explain the point: “Remember, we Greeks invented the Oracle, and one used to go to the Oracle and ask what was going to happen. But she never gave any definite answers.

“If you read your mythology, she never said yes or no.

“So, unfortunately, I cannot comment.

“As out chief executive has said, we will seek to grow organically, as we have grown throughout our history, but if there is a deal out there to be made I am sure Wyndham will be at the table.

“That is a very broad statement, but I think organic growth is our key priority at the moment, growing our 20 brands and expanding them.”

Globally Wyndham Hotels & Resorts offers a portfolio of nearly 9,000 hotels in 80 countries.

Europe, Middle East and Africa is geographically the largest and most culturally diverse region for the company, with approximately 460 hotels across more than 40 countries.

Supporting the vast region are four teams, based out of our corporate offices in London, Istanbul, Dubai and Delhi.

In the UK, Wyndham offers a relatively streamlined portfolio of Ramada, Ramada Encore and Days Inn hotels.

While there is an ambition to grow generally, it will not be growth for growth’s sake, Manikis explains.

“When we talk about expansion, we want to do justice to our owners.

“Our development team does not have a specific number per brand to grow, we want to be fair to the owners and give them the right advice for the right brand.

“We do not wake up one day and say, ‘today we will do ten Ramadas’.

“If we have to do five Ramadas, and it makes more sense for the owners, that is our duty of care.

“This is where we have a very well trained, professional, tenured development team, and they can look at a property, and even if I tell them we need Ramadas in Georgia, they will say, ‘this is more of a Dolce, a Wyndham Grand’.

“It is not about the brand; it is about what is fair for the market, the owner, and the segment of clients.

“It is not like you are making a pizza – I need two slices of pepperoni, three slices of cheese – it could be anything as long as it is fair for the owner.”

Causing a particular stir of late has been the Trademark Collection, which recently added a new flagship in the United States.

The brand allows Wyndham to target hotel owners that previously might have steered clear of the restrictions imposed by membership of a chain, explains Manikis.

“We are very cautious and are strategically looking at the growth of Trademark Collection.

“We realised that authenticity and the unique DNA of certain properties, it was a pity for us not to be associated with those properties because they did not fit in a box, in our standards book.

“We said, why should we deprive our customers, and the millions of members of our loyalty scheme, of holidays in these properties simply because they do not fit in a box?

“We decided to launch a soft brand, aware that we needed to be careful not to cannibalise our larger business, but at the same time bringing in properties that have a DNA and an authenticity that we need.

“What we offer the Trademark owners is distribution, loyalty, and technology, so it is fair to them as well.

“They know they have a beautiful hotel in the centre of Paris, but I want to take advantage of Wyndham’s power, without losing my own DNA – this is the right tool for that.”

Speaking in Las Vegas earlier this year, Wyndham chief executive Ballotti revealed the company would add the ‘…by Wyndham’ suffix to all of its properties – a big change long called for by hotel owners.

“We have had anecdotal evidence that owners were positive about this change,” explains Manikis.

“It reinforces the brand, the consistency of Wyndham, the power of the brand in certain markets.

“Wyndham needs to increase its brand awareness, and the ‘…by Wyndham’ gives us the opportunity to do that.

“The timing to do this was right; we went through the pain of changing the bookings technology, of becoming a standalone company, and the acquisition of La Quinta.

“I have to hand it to the leadership, they organised it well and it fit like a glove.

“Now we have a lot of good news to share – and this is the icing on the cake.”

Turning his attention to the future, Manikis gives a typically forthright answer when questioned on how he will measure success over the coming 12 months in his new role.

“My role will have been a success in a year from now if the Wyndham associates are happy – that is critical.

“We will be seeking to grow the talent we have, to make sure the people we have are proud to work for Wyndham.

“We will look to open new markets and expand in new ones.

“We must stay relevant – to both owners and customers – as people have other choices.

“Also, I want to have some fun in the process – otherwise, there is no point! Misery is contagious – when you smile it makes then wonder,” he concludes optimistically.

More Information

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is the largest hotel franchising company in the world, with nearly 9,000 hotels across more than 80 countries on six continents. 

Through its network of approximately 790,000 rooms appealing to the everyday traveller, Wyndham commands a leading presence in both the economy and midscale segments of the lodging industry. 

For more information visit the official website.

Chris O’Toole

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